Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: Six of Crows

Six of Crows Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off reading this book for so, so long because at the time it was probably the most hyped YA book and I figured it wasn't as good as everyone was making it out to be. Boy, was I wrong.

The first thing I really want to point out is that Leigh Bardugo's pacing is amazing. So often I see books that use a lot of filler between the sequences of high action, but this story doesn't have much filler... if any at all, honestly. The story gives both its readers and characters room to breathe between high intensity scenes without losing its momentum.

The characters are realistic and wholly believable. I loved that Bardugo allowed them character growth but also had them cling to old ideas or dreams. Old habits die hard and it seems Bardugo doesn't mind letting her characters have that courtesy.

I loved everything about this book. I loved how diverse the cast was (Brown characters! Queer characters! Fat characters! Disabled characters!) and how Bardugo handled each of them with obvious care. I'm anxious to see how she continues to handle their development in the next book, Crooked Kingdom!

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Why I Don't Read M/M Fiction... Anymore.

In early April of this year, my girlfriend bought me a Kindle and a subscription to Kindle Unlimited to try and alleviate the "walking fatigue" I was feeling from carrying around a satchel of books everywhere I went. I think that's where the problem started, really.

See, Kindle Unlimited has an entire catalog of free books... and honestly, not many of them are very good. But what they lack in substance, they make up for in abundance. I had thousands upon thousands of books at my fingertips. Short, easy to read, vaguely entertaining books that I could download wherever I was (provided they had wifi). It was at that time that I discovered some really weird genres that I just couldn't stop reading.

And M/M romance was one of them.

I assume you understand I'm not talking about David Levithan, Benjamin Alire Saenz level books. No, these are all books that contain flimsy plots, a ridiculous amount of sex, and pretty flat characters. I devoured them. I could easily read 2-3 a day, so not only was I getting cheap entertainment but I was driving my goodreads numbers up through the roof.

They all fit a formula. There's 2 male main characters- one is gay and one is usually either questioning his sexuality, an in-the-closet bisexual, or believes he is straight. The two MCs usually meet while at a football/baseball/hockey/summer camp when they are very young. They form an incredibly tight friendship which is destroyed after a night of drinking where the openly character either seduces or "tricks" his pal into some sexual act. They meet years later and within a few pages, they're in bed together. Lots of sex, usually some violence, then a "conflict" that usually includes the bisexual/questioning/"straight" character leaving, and then they get back together and have more sex. The end.

The other thing they have in common? Most of them are written by straight women.

First, let me say that reading those stories never set well with me. I always had a feeling that there wasn't something right about these stories but I kind of pushed it away because I had friends who were reading the same stories and I enjoyed the companionship that seemed to come from being in this world of M/M fantasies.

It wasn't until a few months later that I realized how wrong these stories are.

My friend had asked to borrow my Kindle while he was sitting with his mom at the hospital. I gladly loaned it to him and warned him that my library had some weird stuff in it. I was mostly thinking about the BBW Cowboy Romances and Shifter Romances I had been reading and tweeting about (if you follow me on twitter and saw my Terrible Romance Lines thread, you understand) but when he gave my Kindle back... he asked if we could talk.

Him: You weren't kidding about the weird books.
Me: Cowboys or the shifter bear thing?
Him: Um... the hetero-written gay porn.

I was shocked. My friend is gay and of all the books I thought he would tease me about, I didn't think it would be the M/M stories. And he did tease me about them but I could tell it was a deeper issue to him than he was letting on. So, I decided to take a look at these stories, at myself, at the writers, and figure out why my friend was upset and why I was suddenly feeling so awful.

And here's what I came up with.

The first thing I realized was this: If straight men were writing these types of stories about lesbian/bisexual/questioning women, I would be furious. They are taking people and reducing them down to sex but selling it as friends-turned-lovers or enemies-turned-lovers. There are no plots to these stories. It is literally men humping and sometimes having fights.

Which brings me to the second thing. These stories are violent. I can't tell you how many of these stories began with the two main characters beating the hell out of each other only to end up naked in bed on the next page. That's unacceptable. Domestic abuse is not foreplay. If these were heterosexual stories and the man punched the woman in the face before ripping her clothes off, we'd be outraged. We'd be stomping our feet and calling for the author's blood, but because this situation involves two men... we're silent? That shows a societal problem. It shows that we think violence between men is normal. It shows that we don't think men are being abused in relationships. Boys will be boys, right?

Then we have our Gay Predator stereotype. The openly gay character in the story is always the one to make the first move. He plies his unsuspecting friend with liquor and then puts on a porno. It's always stated in these stories that the openly gay character is either A) not as drunk as his friend or B) not drunk at all. Having sex with a person who is incapacitated in any manner is rape. Plain and simple. If they are not in their normal state of mind and you continuously push them into a sexual act you know they would not otherwise consent to, you have raped them. I will not argue with anyone on this. And isn't this what homophobes harp on the most? That they fear gay men because gay men can't control their urges? That they're driven by lust? These straight women writing this Gay Predator stereotype are perpetuating the idea that gay men can't have friendships that don't involve sex or romantic feelings and that's dangerous.

Our second main character is always the bisexual/questioning one. He's the character that will leave when things get tough. The Flighty Bisexual stereotype. I hate when these straight authors switch to this character's POV because it always includes him talking about the fact that he still really, really likes women. And that's fine. That's what being bisexual is about... liking whoever you like. But it's always done in the most inappropriate way. The one that sticks out most to me is this scene where the two MCs are in bar and the bisexual/questioning MC is thinking about his friend and how handsome he is and the very next line is "I still really love pussy and tits, though." What this tells me is that the writer wants this fantasy of two rugged (and they are always beautifully sculpted men) men to beat the shit out of each other and then have sex... but she also wants one of them to still desire women. One of them has to still be on the more heterosexual side of things. It's ok for them to do all of these things together as long as one of them is still thinking about women while he's doing these things.

When I talked to my friend after I realized all of this stuff, he just nodded. I'm not way out in left field on my beliefs about why this entire genre of straight women writing M/M "romance" is wrong.

I'm not telling you what to read. People are going to read what they want. But if you're an avid reader of this genre, I hope some of these points will make you pause and question the next story you read.

Monday, September 19, 2016

100 Diverse Books I Want To Read

During last week's Diverse-A-Thon, I took a long hard look at my TBR shelves at home and thought... that's really white. And straight. I've decided to do better, to search for literature that represents me more (Queer and Native) and that showcases voices that are still marginalized but different than my own experiences.

This is just my preliminary list. I fully expect for it grow drastically as I gear up for my 2017 reading challenge, but I feel like this is a good place to get started.

I did notice once I started typing/categorizing these books that I went very heavy with LGBTQIA+ books this go around. I'm not sorry for that in the least bit. I will, however, work harder on my next list to diversify the list to include more QPoC.



(NOTE: Anything with an * beside it marks a book I've already read either in the Diverse-A-Thon or a book I've read but plan to reread. I've also tried to mark them into categories but I'm sure I've made mistakes along the way. Feel free to correct me!)



1. Girl Mans Up- M.E. Girad
2. How I Paid for College- Marc Acito
3. Lunatic Fringe- Allison Moon
4. Sing You Home- Jodi Picoult
5. Dating Sarah Cooper- Siera Maley
6. Waiting in the Wings- Melissa Brayden
7. The Space Between- Michelle L. Teichman
8.Tipping the Velvet- Sarah Waters
9. I Can't Think Straight- Shamin Sarif
10. Fingersmith- Sarah Waters
11. Juliet Takes a Breath- Gabby Rivera (also Latinx)
12. Alice + Freda Forever- Alexis Coe (nonfiction)
13. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century- Peter Graham (nonfiction)
14. When We Were Good- Suzanne Sutherland
15. Tyler Buckspan- Jere M. Fishback
16. Big Guy- Robin Stevenson
17. Band Fags!- Anthony Frank Polito
18. Bad Boy- Diana Wieler
19. Awakened- Kenneth Creech
20. Asher's Fault- Elizabeth Wheeler
21. Another F Word- Lissa Bowen
22. Andy Squared- Jennifer Lavoie
23. Absolutely Positively Not- David LaRochelle
24. 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous- Graeme Aitken
25. Ash- Malinda Lo
26. When the Moon Was Ours- Anna Marie McLemore (also Latinx)
27. Here Comes the Sun- Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn (also Jamaican)
28. The Captive Prince- C.S. Pascat
29. More Happy Than Not- Adam Silvera (also Latinx)
30. Highly Illogical Behavior- John Corey Whaley (also mental illness)
31. Two Boys Kissing- David Levithan*
32. Not Your Sidekick- C.B. Lee (also Asian American)
33. Radical- E.M. Kokie
34. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe- Benjamin Alire Saenz* (also Latinx)
35. George- Alex Grino
36. Blue is the Warmest Color- Julie Maroh
37. The Art of Being Normal- Lisa Williamson
38. Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An LGBT and Two-Spirit Sci-Fi Anthology- David Robertson (also Native American/Indigenous)
39. The Great American Whatever- Tim Federle
40. Openly Straight- Bill Konigsberg
41. Radio Silence- Alice Oseman
42. If I Was Your Girl- Meredith Russo
43. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit- Jaye Robin Brown
44. Tell The Wolves I'm Home- Carol Rifka Brunt
45. Boy Meets Boy- David Levithan
46. The Miseducation of Cameron Post- Emily M. Danforth
47. This Is Where It Ends- Marieke Nijkamp
48. Kissing Kate- Lauren Myracle
49. The Gravity Between Us- Kristen Zimmer
50. Hushed- Kelley York
51. The Cranberry Hush- Ben Monopoli
52. Taking the Long Way- Lily R. Mason
53. Fairytales for Lost Children- Diriye Osman (also Somalis/Africa)
54. Under the Udala Trees- Chinelo Okparanta (also Nigerian/Africa)
55. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse- Louise Erdrich (Also Native American)
56. The One Kid Who Freak Out, or Whatever- A.J.J. Bourque
57. Anything That Loves- Charles "Zan" Christensen

Mentioned under Latinx: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Mentioned under Afro-Caribbean: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

58. House of Purple Cedar- Tim Tingle
59. Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics- Hope Nicholson
60. My Name is Seepteeza- Shirley Sterling
61. Broken Circle- Theodore Fontaine
62. Beyond the Great River- Zoe Saadia
63. Green Grass, Running Water- Thomas King
64. The Cure for Death by Lightning- Gail Anderson-Dargatz
65. Tracks- Louise Erdrich
66. The Inconvenient Indian- Thomas King (non-fiction)
67. The Other Slavery- Andres Resendez
68. The Round House- Louise Erdrich
69. Birdie- Tracey Lindberg
70. Medicine Walk- Richard Wagamese
71. Islands of Decolonial Love- Leanne Simpson
72. All Our Relations- Winona LaDuke (nonfiction)

Already Mentioned under LGBTQAI+:
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse- Louise Erdrich.
Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time- David Robertson

73. Brown Girl Dreaming- Jacqueline Woodson
74. Everything, Everything- Nicola Yoon
75. Midnight Without a Moon- Linda Williams Jackson
76. Queen Sugar- Natalie Baszille
77. All American Boys- Jason  Reynolds

78. Who Fears Death- Nnedi Okorafor
79. Homegoing- Yaa Gyasi
80. Teaching Mother How To Give Birth- Warsan Shire
81. Purple Hibiscus- Chimanda Ngozi Adichie
82. Akata Witch- Nnedi Okorafor
83. soft magic. - Upile Chisala

84. The Land of Forgotten Girls- Erin Estrada Kelly
85. American Born Chinese- Gene Luen Yang
86. Red Scarf Girl- Ji-li Jiang* (nonfiction)
87. In Order To Live- Yeonmi Park (nonfiction)
88. Without You, There Is No Us- Suki Kim (nonfiction)

89. Labyrinth Lost- Zoraida Cordova (also LGBTQAI+)
90. In the Time of Butterflies- Julia Alvarez

Already Mentioned under LGBTQAI+:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
When the Moon was Ours by Anna Marie McLemore
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

91. Shadowshaper- Daniel Jose Older
92. Falling in Love with Hominids- Nalo Hopkinson (also lgbtqai+)

93. The Wrath and the Dawn- Renee Ahdieh
94. The Rose and the Dagger- Renee Ahdieh
95. The Star Touched Queen-  Roshani Choksi
96. An Ember in the Ashes- Sabaa Tahir

OTHER- These are books that have multiple diverse voices/#ownvoices or I wasn't sure where to put them.
97. Six of Crows- Leigh Bardugo (LGBTQAI+ characters, PoC, disabled character, #ownvoices for disability)
98. Milk & Honey- Rupi Kapir (feminism??)
99. The Girl From Everywhere- Heidi Heilig (Biracial Chinese white character, mental illness- bipolar, #ownvoices on both)
100. The Summer the Melted Everything- Tiffany McDaniel (deals with racism and homophobia)

Review: Red Scarf Girl

Red Scarf Girl Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the third and final book I read for the Diverse-A-Thon and I'm glad I saved it for the end... because I ended up doing a lot of research.

Red Scarf Girl is a tale of terror as seen through the eyes of a 12 year old girl who is in the "black class" (as in not with the Red regime) of communist China. The whole book unsettled me which is good- that's what it's supposed to do. It was hard to stomach the fact that family turned against each other so quickly in a bid to not be labeled as 'anti-Revolutionary'.

This was a unique perspective. I've read books before where the author or the MC has disliked or was troubled by Mao from the beginning, but Ji-li Jiang had so much admiration and trust placed in Mao and it was a gift to be able to watch her go from 'I'd do anything for him and I'd do anything to be in the Red Class' to 'I'm choosing my family'. Because that's what it came down to for her and for many other people in China at the time. This was an era where having family heirlooms and pictures of your family could get you arrested. To choose family over the Red Party was almost unheard of.

If you've never read anything about the Cultural Revolution, I would recommend starting with this book.

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Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is strangely hard to review.

I loved the setting. I loved the premise. Renee Ahdieh is clearly a masterful writer. I thought the characters were interesting, well written, altogether well rounded but... I'm not sure I buy into the romance.

It seems impossible to me that Shazi would feel the way she did for Khalid before she discovers that he's not quite the monster everyone believes. I wanted to chalk it up to Stockholm Syndrome but that's clearly not the case. (view spoiler) It rattled me a little, well... a lot, to the point that I almost quit mid-book because it just didn't feel write.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book and I usually NEVER read anything that has a love-triangle in it. I will be reading the second book because I'm anxious to see how Tariq's psyche holds up.

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Review: Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys Kissing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"We know that some of you are still scared. We know that some you are still silent. Just because it's better now doesn't mean that it's always good."

This book shattered me in the best way possible.

I picked this one up as my first read for the September Diverse-A-Thon and I really couldn't have started with a better book. The title is deceptive- this isn't just about two boys kissing. There are several boys kissing and a whole Greek chorus of AIDS victims cheering them on, crying and wishing and hoping for the very best for this new crop of Queer kids who are facing similar difficulties.

This is a slow burn book. It's a small 196 pages but it packs a punch like an 800 page novel would. I'm honest when I say I was crying by page 4.

The thing that struck me the most with Two Boys Kissing was how real the characters felt. Everyone was so well rounded, full of life and flaws and very, very distinct personalities. I was genuinely worried about how Levithan would handle a trans* character but Avery was written beautifully and the subject was handled with delicate care.

This book is important. I can't stress this enough. This book right here is IMPORTANT. I wish I had read this book as a teenager. It's full of hope for a better tomorrow for our Queer youth.

I recommend this book to everyone. Not just LGBTQAI+ community members. Everyone who has ever loved someone, who has ever felt like they had no one to love, has ever felt like they loved no one needs to read this book.

It's that important.

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